Originally published on Forbes.
In the competitive world of Ivy League admissions, internships allow students to demonstrate to admissions officers that they have gained professional acumen and experience in their field of interest, acquiring real-world skills and proficiencies that they will carry into their college careers. Although securing an internship as a teenager can be challenging, ambitious high school students who pursue internship opportunities can leverage their experience to make valuable connections and distinguish themselves from other applicants in the admissions process, particularly by asking their internship supervisor to write and submit a third letter of recommendation on their behalf. However, doing so requires a proactive and strategic approach.
In order to maximize your summer internship for your college applications, follow these five steps:
1. Take initiative and be teachable.
To stand out amongst your co-workers and supervisors, actively seek out new projects, ask to be involved in diverse tasks, and approach challenges with enthusiasm. Get out of your comfort zone. Demonstrate your willingness to go above and beyond by taking the initiative to expand your skill set and explore areas outside of your designated responsibilities. You may find a new passion or outlet for your interests in the process.
That being said, as you conduct your internship this summer, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it and make mistakes as you learn your role. Show resilience, embrace feedback (both positive and negative), and demonstrate a willingness to continually develop your skills and knowledge. The ability to adapt, learn from setbacks, and grow is highly valued in both the professional world and the college admissions landscape. Each year, the Common Application issues a personal essay prompt that requires students to reflect on a challenge or difficulty that shaped their perspective. Your high school years are all about growth through trial and error, so remember that failure is often a part of the process and can be a valuable asset for development and growth.
2. Showcase your unique perspective.
High school students have the potential to bring a fresh perspective and unique insights to the table within a professional setting. Consider your passions and strengths—the particular interests, experiences, knowledge, or personality traits you possess—and how you can use these to your advantage. Participate in discussions and activities, offer creative solutions, and contribute to projects in ways that highlight your distinct perspective. At the same time, as you share your ideas and opinions with colleagues and supervisors, be mindful of your place in the company and jump in only when appropriate and constructive. When it is appropriate to contribute your perspective to the discourse, be concise, articulate, and professional in all of your interactions, whether it’s in person, over email, or during meetings. By doing so, you can provide a fresh take on a given challenge and find your distinct voice within a professional setting.
3. Document your achievements and reflect on them.
Throughout your summer internship, keep track of your accomplishments, projects, and acquired skills. Keep a journal to document your contributions and what you have learned about yourself and your field of interest. Be sure to reflect on your experiences and areas of growth and improvement. Self-awareness and commitment to continuous learning will be critical as you build a college list and think more intentionally about what program and major you want to pursue. Once the busyness of the fall semester begins, it can be difficult to remember everything you did over the summer, and this written record will help you communicate your skills and experiences when it comes time to write your essays and compile your other application materials.
4. Put your networking skills to work.
An internship affords you an invaluable opportunity to learn from experienced professionals in your field of interest. Actively seek out mentors within the organization who can provide you with guidance and support. Take the initiative to spark conversation, share your professional and collegiate aspirations, and demonstrate a genuine interest in learning from their expertise.
One of the best ways to take advantage of the perspectives of seasoned professionals around you is to come up with questions that could provide insight for your next steps. These conversation starters could include questions such as: How did your high school or college years shape your career trajectory? What do you wish you had known when you started out in your field? What advice would you give to a high school student who wants to gain more experience within this profession? Cultivating a strong professional network during your internship will not only provide you with meaningful advice and mentorship, but could also lead you to a supervisor who can write a letter of recommendation for your college applications and a professional network to connect you with a future job or internship.
5. Write thank you notes and keep up with your connections.
If you hope to ask for a letter of recommendation from your internship supervisor or someone else you connected with during your professional experience, it is crucial to let that person know how they impacted you and make an effort to keep them up to date on what you do after your internship ends. As the end of the summer nears, write a brief but thoughtful note about your experience working with/for them, offering a few specific details or anecdotes about how they uniquely supported you along the way. This letter should also indicate how you plan to utilize those skills and experiences in the future, whether in the coming year of high school or later in your college career and beyond. The letter should also inform them that you may reach out for a recommendation in the future. As you reach certain milestones throughout your high school experience, be sure to reach out and let them know what you have accomplished since your internship so that they can write a more informed and personalized letter of recommendation when the time comes.
A summer internship can pave the way for the rest of a student’s professional and academic journey. By standing out in their summer internships, students will position themselves for future success in the college admissions process and beyond.